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Free Arts Program to Help Health Care Workers Avoid Burnout and Anxiety in Wake of COVID-19

GoFundMe campaign created to support healthcare workers

Published on May 23, 2020

The National Organization for Arts in Health (NOAH) launched a GoFundMe campaign to help bring free expressive art programs to health care workers struggling with anxiety and other symptoms that could lead to burnout in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The program, called “Arts for Resilience in Clinicians” (ARC), will feature artists and art therapists leading interactive projects through videos and virtual sessions.

Burnout in clinicians has long been a topic of concern in the health care industry, with studies showing pre-COVID-19 burnout rates ranging as high as 44-54% in physicians, with similar rates for nurses. alone. Many health care experts are warning these numbers will increase as a result of the pandemic.

“We’re starting to see some impact now, but the consensus is that burnout rates and the numbers of people leaving clinical work are about to jump beyond anything we’ve ever experienced,” says Dr. Alan Siegel, Family Physician at Contra Costa Health Services, NOAH board member, and ARC project Co-Director. Siegel says a potential crisis can be avoided, but the time to act is now. “Offering enhanced, immediate options to help health care workers cope with anxiety and avoid burnout is critical. Health care workers need to be healthy in both mind and body so they can continue doing their work effectively and safely. That’s why NOAH created this program.”

While many health care facilities offer well-being programs for staff, expressive art programs are considered to be among the most effective when it comes to coping with symptoms of burnout and anxiety. For more than 30 years, studies have shown the benefits of incorporating the arts into wellness and mental health programs. In 2019, the World Health Organization published a scoping review that provided significant evidence of the role of the arts in improving health and well-being.

The ARC program will feature interactive art sessions offered through videos and virtual rooms. Each session will allow health care workers to engage in the creative process rather than passively watching a performance and can be accessed online or through an app. Sessions on writing, poetry, dance/movement, drama, music, painting, and other forms of expressive arts will be available. The pilot program will begin this June in six facilities, with an eye to expanding nationwide as financial support grows.

According to ARC project curator and co-director Cynthia Perlis, founder and former director, UCSF Art for Recovery, the programs are intended to offer a release from the overwhelming emotions health care workers are experiencing. “The programs are developed by professional artists and art therapists who have experience in helping others alleviate anxiety and avoid the symptoms of burnout,” she says.

The ARC project’s GoFundMe page was established to help raise funds to bring the program to life. “We hope to harness the enormous goodwill the public is showing health care workers so we can offer caregivers healthy, effective options for relief,” says Perlis.

In addition to financial donations, organizers encourage the public to share creative forms of appreciation through social media. “The explosion of creative expression at this time has been extraordinary,” says Perlis. “By going to Facebook or Twitter and posting their thanks using #healingourhealers, the public can share their gratitude and show their ongoing support.”

Senior Writer